Beverly Hills billionaire revives Sacramento's MLS expansion bid

Sacramento Republic FC has a new lead investor. Just what it means for its MLS expansion bid remains to be seen.

Sacramento mayor Darrell Steinberg made the announcement at his “State of Downtown” breakfast that 66-year-old Ron Burkle, a Beverly Hills billionaire who made his fortune in the grocery business, buying and selling supermarket chains and distributors, was coming on board. The move follows a year-long search to strengthen Sacramento's bid.

"While we held discussions with several potential investors," said USL club's chairman and CEO, Kevin Nagle, "our focus was, and remains, on finding the right lead investor whose vision for our club and our city best aligns with ours."

Sacramento was once considered close to a lock for one of the two expansion spots to be awarded in MLS's year-long search for the 25th and 26th teams that ended with the selections of Nashville and Cincinnati. When he visited the California capital in April 2015, MLS commissioner Don Garber said it was "less about if, and more about when" Sacramento was awarded an MLS team.

Unlike other bidders in the 12-city expansion field, Sacramento already had a deal on a stadium in place and had begun work, prepping the Railyards area north of downtown Sacramento so construction could begin as soon MLS gave the green-light.

That green-light never came as MLS awarded teams to Nashville and Cincinnati. As MLS saw the success of Atlanta United and its massive investment and that made by other new teams, it became clear that the cost of buying expansion rights, building a stadium and making the team competitive was now beyond Nagle's means.

Burkle's arrival changes things. The competitiveness of the expansion process will also put pressure on the city of Sacramento to sweeten its deal. The Sacramento Bee reported that Steinberg wants to create an infrastructure financing district for the Railyards project so money can be targeted to help pay for infrastructure improvements and will propose the city give Sac Republic electronic billboard rights similar those in a deal with the NBA Kings.

Crew complications. Plans to select the 27th and 28th teams in what was first intended to be the league's final round of expansion were complicated by the situation in Columbus, which ended with the Crew staying and its owner, Anthony Precourt, shifting his MLS operating rights to Austin for a team that will come on board in 2021.

St. Louis revival. Recently, St. Louis, considered one of MLS's favorite targets for expansion, has re-entered the picture with group consisting of members of the Taylor family, owners of car rental giant Enterprise, and Jim Kavanaugh, one of the owners of the USL's Saint Louis FC, and a revived stadium plan that this time won't require public funding. (Early in the 2017 MLS expansion process, city residents rejected a measure to provide financing for a downtown soccer stadium.)

Other groups continue to push for an expansion team -- notably, Phoenix -- or have presented new plans for a soccer stadium -- Indianapolis.

At his annual State of the League in December, Garber said MLS will grant the 28th team by the end of 2019 and could support more than 28 teams. With that in place, it's hard to see MLS passing on Sacramento for long.

1 comment about "Beverly Hills billionaire revives Sacramento's MLS expansion bid".
  1. R2 Dad, January 22, 2019 at 10:14 p.m.

    "Steinberg wants to create an infrastructure financing district for the Railyards project so money can be targeted to help pay for infrastructure improvements"
    There is no free lunch, MLS. You want to jack up the price of entry to professional soccer in this country by $500M--that is $500M the 1% will have to extract from the 99%. It's already too expensive in Old Town for many businesses--my favorite Sac restaurant Ten22 had to close--this will only drive up the prices for those that remain. The coming restaurapocalypse is going to gut cities of all those mid-tier establishments, leaving only corporate fast food (for the plebs) and the temples of gastronomy (for the 1%). Yes yes, no one is holding a firearm to Burkle's head, but MLS expansion fees are the equivalent of Pay-to-Play in order for the shrinking middle class to attend a match. At some point there is a backlash, but no one sees it coming.

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